I have depression. And it sucks. It affects my life on a daily basis, straining my relationships, sapping my energy, limiting my productivity, and collapsing my sense of self worth. It is an illness and it is chronic.
I’ve battled depression in some form or another for a good portion of my life. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed back in 2010 that it really sunk in. There was no more denying it – everybody doesn’t feel this way and it’s not normal. That didn’t make it all better, but acceptance is a good start.
On my best days, I don’t feel all that much. It’s a lot like treading fairly calm water. Sometimes I’m bracing for the wave to hit. On my worst days, I feel trapped in a concrete box that has sunk to the depths. It can be hard to breathe, let alone get out of bed or face the world.
On those days, I almost always revert to verbal beratement and mental anguish, which can then lead to self-harm and horrifically detailed thoughts of suicide. The worst part is the unrelenting feeling of being alone. I’m fortunate to have some incredible people in my life that support me through thick and thin, but on those bad days, the concrete box is impenetrable and the loneliness is darker than I could ever express.
This website, and to a much deeper extent, my sanity, exist because of the role music plays in my ongoing struggle with depression. It’s not an antidote, but it soothes the sting of hopelessness that washes over me. It allows me for the briefest of moments to feel as if I’m not alone in this world or this battle.
It’s certainly true that there are albums with uplifting themes that can pull me ever so slightly away from the darkness. Saosin’s self-titled, MMHMM by Relient K and The Wonder Years’ The Upsides are all examples of records that impact me by looking to the bright.
However, I’m most often deeply moved by the records and songs that sit with me in my pain and feel what I feel, even if hearing the words brings a wince. When Underoath vocalist Spencer Chamberlain unleashes the brutal opening shrieks of, “This door has been shut for days / And it’s all too familiar / Can’t I just crack a window? / Can’t I just shake it off?” on “I Don’t Feel Very Receptive Today”, it resonates through every fiber of my being. It asks my questions and it understands my unreasonable mind.
This is important, because these thoughts aren’t rational to those around us. How can you explain your despair when there’s no explanation? On their song “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”, In Fear and Faith tackle this concept head on, with back and forth dual vocals from inside the mind of someone contemplating suicide. “Just hold on / Go ahead let go / It’s not your time / Your time is up / There is so much more / You should end it here / You’ve got your whole life in front of you”.
Their overlapping vocals mirror the deep mental battle of depression and draw attention to the loud, manic fight that many of us face. Hearing those words is difficult because of their blunt familiarity, but there is also peace in hearing voices that understand the fight. Near the end of the song, empathy and peace clash against the hysteria, as they sing, “When you know that the feeling is gone / You’ll see this through my eyes and feel alive again”.
Very recently, I heard the music of The Amity Affliction for the first time. There was an immediate connection and I knew I’d found a new favorite band. It wasn’t long before I learned of lead singer Joel Birch’s struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s not a shocking revelation – his battle seeps from every word and every note.
The band’s latest album, Let the Ocean Take Me, isn’t a game changer in terms of musical composition, but it is a tour de force through the psyche of someone fighting through their depression. There are moments of defeat and moments of resolve littered throughout. Birch’s screams and cries contrast clean singer Ahren Stringer’s softer delivery.
On opener “Pittsburgh”, Birch recounts a near death experience and lays his anguish on the table. When Stringer sings, “It’s like there’s fire in my skin / And I’m drowning from within / I can’t take another breath / Please tell me I am not undone”, it’s crushingly on point. On “The Weigh Down” he sings, ” On the way down I need someone to take my hand / It feels like I can’t breathe / And I might drown on the way down / I’m sick of all the come-downs / Don’t tell me that there’s nothing wrong / I’m weighed down, way down”.
As dark as these lyrics can be, they’re also deeply therapeutic to those of us that wrestle with these same thoughts. Someone understands. Someone is right there with us, searching for hope and desperate for a reason. I’m not alone. It’s these momentary connections that make it so much more powerful when, in a moment of strength on “Death’s Hand”, that Birch is able to shout, “Hey death, get fucked!”
Music has a beautiful way of speaking to us. While I’m not about to endorse music as the cure over therapy, counseling or medication, I can claim it as a supplement. It’s been a dear friend during many of my darkest hours and I pray that its power to speak to me never leaves.
It’s All Dead is a tongue-in-cheek statement that the power of music is not gone – music is still changing lives. It’s still fostering communities, still speaking to our hearts, and still comforting us. Music is still aiding me in my battle with depression, and I know it’s still doing the same for many of you.
If you’re like me in this struggle, get the help you need and keep letting the music mourn with you in your deepest pain and rejoice with you when you triumph. Keep searching for new music that meets you where you are. Play those songs loud and play them often. Most importantly, know that you are not alone.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.